Monday, April 12, 2010

Ehrlich’s Targets: Baltimore County, Anne Arundel and MoCo

The Post’s John Wagner believes that the Washington suburbs will be key to Bob Ehrlich’s chances in the Governor’s race this fall. There is much to recommend his analysis, but we see it a little differently. Ehrlich has a strong incentive to keep his base strong in places like Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore, where he beat O’Malley by 20 points or more in many counties in 2006. But he also needs to target Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County and – surprisingly enough – Montgomery County. Why? Because all three counties contain large numbers of two key groups of voters Ehrlich needs to win.

Most demographics can be counted on to vote one way or another. Republicans will vote for Ehrlich by HUGE margins regardless of what the State Democrats say. People of color and women will favor the Democrats. For Ehrlich to have a chance against Martin O’Malley, he will have to receive both big margins and turnout from two groups who are not automatic votes: independents and white men.

In March 2010, the state had 479,824 unaffiliated voters, about 14% of its total. But that overestimates the influence of independents at the ballot box because they turn out less than Democrats or Republicans. In gubernatorial election years, independent turnout is about 20 points less than members of either major party.

Still, because Republicans comprise only about a fifth of the electorate, Ehrlich needs strong support from independents to win. In 2002, the last poll taken before the general election showed Ehrlich leading Kathleen Kennedy Townsend by five points among independents. We believe the final margin was higher than that. Independents turned out at a higher rate that year than in 1998 or 2006 and Ehrlich won. The last Gonzales poll in January showed O’Malley leading Ehrlich among independents by three points, but that was in the poll’s margin of error.

Here is where unaffiliated voters lived in March 2010.

Forty-seven percent of independents live in three counties: Montgomery, Baltimore and Anne Arundel. Ehrlich must mobilize all of them to win.

The other group Ehrlich needs is white males. Right before his 2002 victory, Ehrlich led Townsend by 24 points among whites and 15 points among men. In January 2010, Ehrlich led O’Malley by 10 points among whites and trailed him by 2 points among men. Ehrlich needs to get those margins up and one way to do it is by appealing to his strongest demographic group: white men.

Here is where non-Hispanic white males lived in 2006-2008 according to the Census Bureau.

Forty-three percent of white men live in three counties: Montgomery, Baltimore and Anne Arundel. This is very close to the residence pattern of independents. Ehrlich needs to have a presence in all three counties to win.

And how about the other swing group: conservative Democrats? They are impossible to identify from either registrations or Census data, but the Ehrlich team will have a proxy to help find them: former Delegate George Owings’s primary vote against O’Malley. Precincts where he does best will be seen as strongholds of protest votes cast against O’Malley by moderate and right-wing Democrats. If we were working for Ehrlich, we would target Democrats in those precincts for special mailers featuring Democratic endorsements for Ehrlich. Owings, who once served in Ehrlich’s cabinet, could be one of them.